Sunday, May 17, 2015

God Cleanses us for His Sake, Vindicates us for His Name

A CLEAN HEART

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Psalm 51:10-12

SCRIPTURE is the church's book, given to her by God, to be used in the church, by the church and for the church.  When we speak of the church like this we don't mean the building or the membership rolls, but rather God's people at worship, the very thing we are engaged in at this time: the Lord's people, gathered on the Lord's Day to celebrate the Lord's Supper which is life now, and life forever.  It is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the glad celebration we were admitted to the day we were baptized into Christ.  And what a day that was!

As Lutherans we hold Scripture in the highest possible regard.  The Bible is the Word of God, the verbal icon of Christ, heaven's knowledge revealed in the language of men.  We are also concerned with pure doctrine, as we must be.  Over the centuries much blood has been spilled over the preservation of true doctrine, much sweat and many tears excreted so that future generations might cherish the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the pure doctrine that illumines benighted souls, that lifts us up above the mistaken opinions and vain pursuits of the world we inhabit, and separates us from the consequences of our many and grievous sins.  It is not without reason that the church has embedded the words of David into her liturgy, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within..."

Yet many are asking today: why liturgy?  Can't we have God's word and true doctrine without liturgy?  To which we answer: the liturgy is the Word of God, the Word of God in action, the highest and best usage of Holy Scripture and of true doctrine.  For the Christian faith is not practiced in the closet, or on the beach, or in our beds, but in the liturgy of the Word and Sacrament, which takes place in the church.

Said another way, Scripture is not only a theological hand book, or encyclopedia of divine knowledge.  It is that, but not only that.  It is also a liturgical book, a book that gives us both the form and the content of what Christian worship is: how it is to be understood, conducted and believed.  The Psalm assigned for today is a perfect example of how the church uses the Bible, by embedding the words of Psalm 51 into the liturgy to be used as the opening words for the Service of the Sacrament.

You will recall that the Lutheran Rite of the Mass is divided into two equal parts: the Service of the Word which concludes with, "the peace of God which passes all understanding..." and the Service of the Sacrament which opens with the words we have before us today, "Create in me a clean heart O God..."  You might also notice that following the  "The peace of God which passes all understanding..." that the organist pauses for a noticeable time before beginning, "Create in me..."  That is done to indicate that the Service of the Word is complete, and now the Service of the Sacrament is about to commence.  That means that the words, "Create in me a clean heart O God," are not a response to the sermon, but rather they look forward to the Sacrament.

Yes, it is true that in the Eucharist we receive the remission of sins, life and salvation, but we still pray that we might approach this sublime moment, this holy union with Christ where His body and blood become one with our body and blood, with hearts that are purified and made fit by none less than God's Holy Spirit.

We pray this because like David we too are adulterers, in our minds and worse.  We too are murderers, in our minds whenever we hate our brother, or worse, and like the people of Israel, who Ezekiel takes to task, we too profane the name of God by behaving like the culture, singing from its idolatrous hymnal, confessing its deadly creeds and living out its twisted dictates in our flesh.  Repent, Christians.  Ponder your behavior, your affections, and turn away from your sins, for you have not so learned from Christ.

Instead the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ inspires us to pursue the virtues listed in today's Epistle lesson.  In it St Peter reminds God's people to be sober-minded, to exercise self-control and to share this world's goods with those who are in need.  He reminds the clergy not to teach their own thoughts or opinions, but only the oracles of God, the full counsel of God, and to rely on His strength for the task, for no man, however talented or devoted, can rightly administer the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, we join David in praying these wonderful words:  Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me; words that the King of Glory and the Lord of Hosts answered for us on Pentecost when He sent the Helper who is above all other helpers, who is the only competent Counselor fit to teach His Bride the Church.  He is the Spirit of Truth who leads us out of self-deception and the world's duplicity, into all truth.

It is by His mighty power, and His alone, that hearts of stone are turned into new ones, clean ones brimming over with love for God and love for your neighbor.  He does all this in the Christian Church where He richly and daily forgives your sins, and the sins of all believers in Christ, where He restores the joy of salvation to you, and propels you ever forward, ever closer to your final destination:  Heaven.  Paradise.

He does all this so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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